Does a lot of interviews well

Forms of interview: Good to know before asking

Why interviews don't have to be factual

Some, especially young journalists, are not clear about the differences between the types of interviews. Here is an overview that also distinguishes between the most important types of interviews based on factual and emotional communication. Because before interviewers make their interview goals clear to themselves, it should be clear to them which type of interview fits the topic and the interlocutor.

By Mario Müller-Dofel

The term »interview« comes from the French verb »entrevoir«, which means »to meet someone«, »to see someone briefly«. Most of the time people meet who would hardly get together without the intention of being interviewed. For journalists, interviews are an important means of obtaining information and a form of reporting that is widely used. The four most important interview types for journalistic interviews are described below:

  • the factual interview,
  • the opinion interview,
  • the personalized interview and that
  • personalized factual interview.

Forms of interviews: definition

There are many de fi nitions for the journalistic interview. Walther von La Roche, co-editor of the SpringerVS series “Journalistische Praxis”, calls it a “conversation that can still be recognized as such by the reader, listener and viewer when it is published”. This is not the case with question-and-answer sessions that the journalist only conducts for research purposes, i.e. without journalistic intent. Therefore, research talks are not interviews in the strict journalistic sense. However, they sometimes turn out to be so interesting that journalists later quote from them.

From a communication strategy perspective, the same rules of success apply to research interviews as to "real" interviews. Therefore, a very general interview definition by the journalist and book author Donald Ferguson is preferred at this point: "An interview is when a reporter asks questions."

Question centering

The interview questions should always be based on the interest of the audience. Because the journalistic interview is aimed at third parties: at the media consumers, as their deputy the journalist is supposed to interview his interlocutors. This is the main difference to non-journalistic interviews such as police interrogations, therapy and everyday conversations, the content of which is not intended for outsiders. About the interview types:

The factual interview

... serves to clarify the facts. For example with the eyewitness: “When exactly was the emergency call triggered?” With the actor: “How long will the shooting for your new film still take?” Or with the company boss “What sales and profit targets have you set for the coming financial year?”

In this type of interview, experts such as police officers, lawyers and scientists who are unknown to the audience are often presented who can explain competently, concisely and clearly. In return, the informant and the journalist meet only on the objective communication level and mostly remain relatively superficial. Your opinions and characters are irrelevant. And the emotional relationship is secondary. The interviewer can know significantly less about the topics of conversation than his informant. All of this makes the factual interview comparatively easy for the journalist.

During the opinion interview ...

... the journalist asks how the interviewee assesses a situation or another opinion. For example, the accident expert: “How could the person who caused the accident have prevented the accident?” A film critic: “In your opinion, what distinguishes the film?” Or a trade unionist: “Why do you think a five percent increase in wages is justified?”

In opinion interviews, people are usually asked who are directly or indirectly involved with the question topics. As in a factual interview, the journalist and his informant primarily communicate with one another on the factual communication level. The characters and the emotional relationship between the two are secondary. The opinion interview is also relatively uncomplicated for the journalist because it is primarily related to factual issues, although by no means only factual facts, but rather emotional statements due to the focus on opinion.

In a personalized interview ...

… The focus is on the respondent with his or her peculiarities, emotions, habits, interests and opinions: “You witnessed the accident. What were your thoughts when it happened? ”Or,“ You are currently making a film in which you play an adulterer. Why do you think you fit this role? ”Or:“ Your company is highly profitable. Yet you lay off hundreds of employees. Do you find that social? "

In personalized interviews, artists, celebrities, victims, contemporary witnesses and people who suddenly became public interest due to a certain event often have their say. The journalist and his informant meet each other primarily on the emotional communication level. The interviewer knows the facts and asks for personal views on them. Sometimes he confronts his informant with his own or the editorial point of view, if he hopes to be able to better outline his way of thinking, human strengths and weaknesses as well as contradictions. In order to be able to shape the delicate emotional relationship in a positive way, the journalist must be prepared for the personality of the interviewee and know how to “take” him. In a personalized interview, the interviewer has to communicate much more strategically than in a factual and opinion interview. That makes the personalized interview much more difficult.

The personalized factual interview

... is a hybrid of the three aforementioned types of interviews. Here the journalist asks for facts and opinions: "How many people will you be fired?" ... "Is that social?" ... "Do you think that your employees see it that way too?" This type of interview is mostly used for longer interviews with managers and politicians , Philosophers, contemporary witnesses and other people of public interest. All characteristics of factual, opinion and personalized interviews apply here. Personalized factual interviews, if they are as successful as possible, usually offer the audience the highest informational and entertainment value. But they also demand an above-average amount of preparation, empathy and eloquence from the interviewer.

The best possible interview

... cannot be defined across the board. The circumstances under which journalists meet their interlocutors are too different and their idiosyncrasies are too different. Nevertheless, an attempt at de fi nition to provide orientation:

The journalist has succeeded in an interview in the best possible way if, after publication, he honestly believes that he has used all journalistic and communicative possibilities to get the most out of himself and his informant. From the audience's point of view, a good interview is informative, understandable, entertaining and (in the case of personalized conversations) emotional. It presents the readers, listeners and viewers not only with what the interviewee answers, but also how he behaves, whether he is evasive, for example, squirming. The interviewee should express clear facts and opinions, but may also thrash phrases if they fit the interviewer's goals and attract attention. In addition, the best possible interview shows the journalist, above all, with his personality at eye level with his informant.

Young journalists take note: eye level has nothing to do with age, but with acceptance by the person you are speaking to. Young journalists can develop this through forward-looking, professional communication.

* Mario Müller-Dofel is co-initiator of the knowledge portal “Everything about interviews”. (The text below is largely taken from the book "Conducting Interviews. A Handbook for Training and Practice" in the SpringerVS series "Journalistic Practice". The second edition of the book was published at the end of 2016.)